Destruction of Nalanda University by Bakhtiyar Khilji

Destruction of Nalanda University by Bakhtiyar Khilji

In this article I will describe the destruction of Nalanda University by Terrorist Muslim warlord Bakhtiyar Khilji in 1193 CE.

Who was Bakhtiyar Khilji?
Muhammad Bakhtiyar Khilji or Ikhtiyar ad-Din Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khilji or Malik Ghazi Ikhtiyar ‘l-Din Muhammad Bakhtiyar Khilji ( ইখতিয়ার উদ্দিন মুহম্মদ বিন বখতিয়ার খিলজী / اختيار الدين محمد بن بختيار الخلجي / बख्तियार खिलजी ) was a terrorist Islamic warlord who pillaged and looted India during 1190’s. He is obviously held in high esteem in Islamic Bangladesh, because during Bakhtiyar Khilji’s reign, Islam achieved most number of converts in India.

Destruction of Nalanda University – Muhammad Bakhtiyar Khilji
Representational Image

Nalanda University
Nalanda University existed between 400 AD to 1100 CE in Bihar. Nalanda University was the first Hindu-Buddhist fully residential university, and had nearly 10,000 students and about 2000 faculty members teaching a wide variety of topics like metaphysics, philosophy, Hindu Samkhya, Yogas, Vedas, Pali , Madhyamika and Tantrik darshana. Both Nastika (Jain, Buddha) as well as Astika (Samkhya, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Yoga, Mimasa) studies were pursued by the students with great gusto. For 800 years, Nalanda University thrived under Hindu and Buddhist rule.

Nalanda University was held in high esteem by both Buddhist (Palas) as well as Hindu rulers (Guptas, Senas). It was the chief centre of academic Mahayana Buddhism, specializing in sadhana. Great names like Nagarjuna, Asanga, Santarakshita, Rahulabhadra, Kamalasila, Padmasambhava and Atisa, all of whom moulded the Tibetan talent, were associated with this institution.

Nalanda University attarcted many foreign scholars and pilgrims. The University of Nalanda attracted students and teachers from Korea, Japan, China, Tibet, Indonesia, Persia, and Turkey. Hsuan-tsang and I-tsing (600 CE) who studies there record that Nalanda had 8 sperate halls, 300 apartments, along with meditation halls and classrooms. It was surrounded by lakes and parks.


The great scholars of Nalanda produced a vast literature in all branches of knowledge. It is said that it is in the field of logic that they made their greatest contribution. It rose up to be a leading and an outstanding center of learning and intellectual activities, and also as a leading center of dissemination of knowledge in various fields.

Supported by donations from a number of villages and liberal grants made by the kings during those times, the university provided free educational facilities to both teachers and students that stayed in the university during those times. Education was freeand there were 8500 students, 1500 teachers and 100 lectures every day. “The students attend these discourses without any fail, even for a minute.” (Hsuan-tsang) A general body of students took part in decision making.

Destruction of Nalanda University by Bakhtiyar Khilji – Ariel View

Its famous library spread over 3 multi-storeyed buildings, contained lakhs of manuscripts and is said to have burned for months when the University was destroyed by Bakhtiyar Khilji in 1193.

In 1193, the Nalanda University complex was destroyed by Turkish Muslim invaders under Bakhtiyar Khalji; this event is seen as the final milestone in the decline and near extinction of Buddhism in India. He also burned Nalanda’s a major Buddhist library and Vikramshila University, as well as numerous Bhuddhist monasteries in India. When the Tibetan translator, Chag Lotsawa Dharmasvamin (Chag Lo-tsa-ba, 1197 – 1264), visited northern India in 1235, Nalanda was damaged, looted, and largely deserted, but still standing and functioning with seventy students.

Nalanda University Library
According to Tibetan accounts, ancient NalandaUniversity’s library called Dharmaganjaconsisted of three grand buildings called Ratnasagara, Ratnodadhi and Ratnaganjaka. In the nine storeyed Ratnodadhi, sacred scripts called Prajna-paramita-sutra, and Tantric works such as Samajaguhyawere stored.The Chinese scholar monk, Xuan Zangrecorded: “The whole establishment is surrounded by a brick wall. One gate opens into the great college, from which are separated eight other halls standing in the middle.” The grandeur of the Nalanda library encapsulated the spirit of the university.

When the savage Bakhtiyar Khilji sacked Nalanda, the library burnt for 3 months. Nothing denotes the violent end to the knowledge enshrined at Nalanda more than the image of the burning library: a library whose vast resources are captured in the vivid image of the length of time it took to burn.

Destruction of Nalanda University based on Tabaqat-i-Nasiri
Destruction of Nalanda University by Bakhtiyar Khilji – Buddhism
Nalanda University residents being killed by Bakhtiyar Khilji
He [Bakhtiyar Khilji] used to carry his depredations into those parts and that country until he organised an attack upon the fortified city of Bihar. Trustworthy persons have related on this wise, that he advanced to the gateway of the fortress of Bihar with two hundred horsemen in defensive armour, and suddenly attacked the place. There were two brothers of Farghanah, men of learning, one Nizamu-ud-Din, the other Samsam-ud-Din (by name) in the service of Muhammad-i-Bakhtiyar; and the author of this book [Minhaj] met with at Lakhnawati in the year 641 H, and this account is from him.

These two wise brothers were soldiers among that band of holy warriors when they reached the gateway of the fortress and began the attack, at which time Muhammad-i-Bakhtiyar, by the force of his intrepidity, threw himself into the postern of the gateway of the place, and they captured the fortress and acquired great booty. The greater number of inhabitants of that place were Brahmans, and the whole of those Brahmans had their heads shaven; and they were all slain.

There were a great number of books there; and, when all these books came under the observation of the Musalmans, they summoned a number of Hindus that they might give them information respecting the import of those books; but the whole of the Hindus were killed. On becoming acquainted (with the contents of the books), it was found that the whole of that fortress and city was a college, and in the Hindu tongue, they call a college Bihar.”

Destruction of Nalanda University based on popular Islamic Bengali Theater
An account of the Destruction of Nalanda from a 19th cent. Islamic Bengali theater is given below.
Qutub-ud-din Aibak to Bakhtiar Khilji: Khilji, I want you to march towards the Bay of Bengal and bring this entire Kafir (infidel) land under my rule. It is time for us to spread the teachings of the Holy Prophet, declared the Sultan.

As Khilji stopped his troops a couple of miles from the Nalanda complex, he was awed by its size and grandeur. What is this magnificent complex? He wondered. He ordered his soldier Abdulla to investigate. Abdulla went towards the complex gate where the guard stopped him. The guard informed him that, as the tradition went, he had to answer three questions before he entered the complex. Unable to answer, Abdulla got irritated and went back to his master the general himself galloped towards the gate and ordered his men to follow him. The guard stopped Muhammad Khilji and asked him the same questions he had asked Abdulla. He calmly drew his sword and beheaded the guard.

After the prayers were over, Bakhtiar Khilji and his troops were truly energized. The general ordered the troops to swarm the university and spare no infidels. Thousands of monks and students were beheaded and blood flowed in streams. Temples, Stupas, and statues were destroyed. Those who could run tried to save their lives by hiding in the library as no one inside the university was taught to be a fighter. Moreover, they had no arms and were defenseless. The general and his men came in front of the library. An old monk came from inside and begged the general to spare at least the library.

“Books will do no harm, please do not destroy the library,” begged the old monk.
“Is there a copy of the Holy Quran inside?” asked the general.
“No, there is not,” replied the monk.

The answer infuriated the general beyond limits. The monks had to be punished , “And if any believe not in Allah and His Messenger, We have prepared, for those who reject Allah, a Blazing Fire!”

“Then, it is settled. Burn the library,” he ordered his troops as he swung his sword again, beheading the old monk.

As the library was engulfed in flames trapping those who had taken refuge in the building Bakhtiar Khilji, who was utterly disgusted at the practice of idolatry he had just witnessed, addressed his soldier Abdulla.

“Brother Abdulla, It is going to take a long time to eradicate idolatry from Hindustan. Insha’Allah, we will succeed one day, and we will clean this place forever. We shall make this Kafir land truly Dar Al-Islam.”

The burning of the library continued for several months and “smoke from the burning manuscripts hung for days like a dark pall over the low hills.”

Destruction of Nalanda University by Bakhtiyar Khilji – Ruins

Story of Tibetan Monk after Nalanda destruction
An interesting story of the Tibetan scholar, known by his Indian name, Dharmasvami, who was in Nalanda around 1230, was recovered by Rahula Sankrtyayanafrom a monastery in Central Tibet. During his travel in India, this Tibetan monk settled down to study Sanskrit grammar under the 8o-year old Indian Buddhist monk, Rahula-Sribhadra, who was one of the very few professors who continued to reside and teach in Nalanda, when it had already been battered by the Muslim invaders. The zeal for learning had prompted several eager students to reside with this old Pandita, who was supported and looked after by a Brahmin nobleman, Jayadeva of Odantapura.

Muslims were again planning to ransack Magadha, and Jayadeva had by then got into trouble and had been thrown into prison by the Muslim overlords. But he struggled hard and succeeded in communicating the news of the impending Muslim attack to Rahula-Sribhadra so that the old monk could escape in time. When the news reached Nalanda and when the Muslim hordes were in sight, the few scholars who had held on fled and deserted the premises, except the old Rahula and his Tibetan student Dharmasvami. Rahula urged the student to fly to safety; he himself was too old to run away and did not in fact care what happened to him.

But the Tibetan youth refused to leave the teacher alone, and stayed on with him. Soon, however, when the Muslim army arrived on the scene, the Tibetan scholar carried his old teacher on his back along with a supply of rice, sugar and some books, and walked into hiding in a ruined temple not far from Nalanda. When the invaders ransacked the monastery and left, the Tibetan scholar and the Indian teacher returned to Nalanda to continue their study of grammar!
Source: S.K.Ramachandra Rao ‘Tibetan Tantric Tradition’, Arnold Heineman publishing house

Established in the fifth century during the Gupta dynasty, the ancient Nalanda University was once flocked by thousands of scholars and thinkers from across the world. It was destroyed by the Muslim Turkish army of Bakhtiyar Khilji, a general of Qutbuddin Aibak and the blaze in the huge library is believed to have raged for several days.

Source: Tabaqat-i-Nasiri, English translation by H.G. Raverty, pages 551-52
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